Conflicts over how to "scale" policy-making tasks have characterized environmental governance since time immemorial. They are particularly evident in the area of water policy and raise important questions over the democratic legitimacy, economic efficiency and effectiveness of allocating (or "scaling") tasks to some administrative levels as opposed to others. This article adopts a comparative federalism perspective to assess the "optimality" of scaling-either upward or downward-in one issue area, namely coastal recreational water quality. It does so by comparing the scaling of recreational water quality tasks in the European Union (EU) and Australia. It reveals that the two systems have adopted rather different approaches to scaling and that this difference can partly be accounted for in federal theoretical terms. However, a much greater awareness of the inescapably political nature of scaling processes is nonetheless required. Finally, some words of caution are offered with regard to transferring policy lessons between these two jurisdictions.